From affordability to vaccinations, here are the priorities outlined in the 2021 B.C. throne speech
VANCOUVER -- The B.C. government outlined part of its plan to get through and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic during the NDP's throne speech.
The party is pledging to prioritize health care and affordability in 2021-22, according to the speech read at the B.C. Legislature Monday.
It's the second throne speech since the NDP's snap-election victory in October.
The party's decision to call a last-minute election was slammed by critics including the BC Liberals, but ultimately led to an NDP majority government.
The speech outlining the provincial government's commitments for the next year was read by Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin, who opened with an acknowledgement of the passing of Prince Philip.
"His Royal Highness will be remembered fondly by British Columbians for his devotion to Queen and country, his duties as Royal Patron, and his ever-keen interest in the lives and work of Canadians," she read.
The new government's speech focused on the challenges COVID-19 has prevented, including the impact on local businesses. But it also addressed issues the NDP campaigned on in years past, including $10-a-day daycare and housing affordability.
Looking for a quick summary of what is included in the speech? Read 10 highlights.
The Horgan Government said in the speech that it recognizes a need to move on from the pandemic and focus on setting up a successful future.
"The COVID-19 pandemic is the toughest challenge we have faced in more than a generation," Austin read.
"Every one of us has been called on to do our part – and to stay apart – to protect the people around us. British Columbians have risen to the task… The lessons we have learned over the last year will serve us well as we turn toward recovery."
In particular, the province acknowledged economic recovery will be a priority in the coming months.
Insisting "our strengths remain," the speech gave nods to natural resources, clean technology, ties to Asian and North American ports and highly skilled workers.
Plans for the future include help for hard-hit businesses and job creation, as well as investments in infrastructure.
It's also promising to take steps to support innovation, technology and sustainability.
While the focus of the speech is primarily on a post-pandemic B.C., the threat of new variants means it's too soon to relax, and it also addressed the continued need for measures outlined in B.C.'s public health orders.
"In a marathon, the final push is the most difficult. The pandemic is no different, as the last few weeks have proven," Austin read.
Additionally, it noted not all have been impacted by the pandemic in the same way.
"We are all in the same storm, but not in the same boat," Austin read.
The province is promising targeted investments to "ensure the recovery does not leave people behind."
The speech included a pledge for a better health-care system, with improved access, more mental health care options and revisions to the long-term care system.
And the province promised improvements to mental health and addictions care in B.C., saying, "we will redouble our efforts."
Among those steps are actions to end the criminalization of simple drug possession.
The NDP also promised many will be paying less for car insurance, investments in middle-income rental housing and the expansion of its discounted day-care program.
"Life becomes more affordable not just when costs go down, but also when incomes go up," Austin read, citing the upcoming minimum wage increase.
As of June, B.C.'s lowest-paid workers will be making $15.20 an hour.
Addressing inequality, the government promised further investments in housing options for homeless British Columbians, and an expansion of technology in remote, rural and Indigenous communities.
And the Horgan Government also promised to address racism by enacting B.C.'s first anti-racism law, and reforming the "outdated" Police Act.
"Diversity and inclusion are what make B.C.'s communities so special. Your government will work with you to protect and celebrate it," Austin read.
The speech preached changes that would ensure the protection of the environment, including reforms for the forestry sector and improvements to waste management, as well as shifts toward greener technology and energy sources.
Further details are expected next week, when B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson tables the government's first budget since being re-elected in the fall.
"All budgets are about choices. This budget will choose to help people now and create the conditions for a strong economic recovery that reaches every British Columbian," Austin read.
The budget, which will be revealed on April 20, will include information on investments in infrastructure, NDP house leader Mike Farnworth said previously, but much of its focus will be on the novel coronavirus.
Previous criticism of the NDP's handling of COVID-19 include that the approach has been unfocused, according to interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond. Prior to Monday's speech, she said the Opposition would be looking for specific and straightforward plans.
In closing, Austin said the last year has challenged British Columbians in ways they couldn't have imagined.
"The difficult times are not over yet. As we begin this legislative session, your government urges you not to lose sight of what has made our province so resilient," she said.
"The future for our province is bright. It is one of hope and opportunity. Now let's get to work ensuring B.C. comes back stronger than ever, for everyone."
With files from The Canadian Press
Watch the speech: